Dondi Carder of Unsung Salvage Design Co.
Dondi Carder is a co-founder of Unsung Salvage Design Co., a design firm that brings new life to old objects through repurposing and restoring them to create décor pieces and interior design installations.
How did you come up with the idea for this business?
I’m the oldest of four children, and it’s been a lifelong dream of mine to have a business in my family. We’re a family of artists—my father is a master carpenter, and I’ve tried to get him to do this for years. I’ve pushed my brothers and sister over the years, too.
Today, two of my partners are my brothers, Justin and Jason Carder, and we have a fourth partner, Scott Hubbard, who’s a friend of the family.
How did you start your business?
Three years ago, we did some design work for a church in Hamilton. We took a space that was an old Moose Lodge and renovated it, creating rustic, modern, industrial décor. A year later, we redid another space for that same church. Foster & Flux is our third design project.
On the side, I go to auctions or get things out of people’s garages. We take things people consider trash and put new life into them with an artsy edge. Our intent is to create something beautiful by restoring and repurposing these items.
What prompted you to take the leap of starting your business?
My family has unbelievable talent with painting, drawing, carpentry and other fine arts. Over the years, I’ve wondered if we’re wasting our talents. When we got the opportunity to redesign a 13,000-square-foot space in Hamilton, we took a drop ceiling out to expose all the pipes and exposed concrete floor joists. We cleaned and painted the ceiling, scrubbed the paint off a concrete floor to reveal its original finish, and stripped and redid a bar in the space. We incorporated vintage, antique pieces like wooden ladders and Edison bulbs and used black iron pipe to create a dozen or so light fixtures from them—they’re functional art.
After that project, we stepped back and said, “Look what we can do!” People who came into the space were amazed that we could take materials people considered junk and make something out of them. With that momentum, we put ourselves out there on Etsy.
What’s next for Unsung Design?
We know two sisters in Hamilton who are opening a bakery called “The Almond Sisters.” They’re going to let us use their front space—a bakery and coffee house—to start our retail space. Also, the acting city commissioner of Hamilton is a supporter of what we’re doing. He’s working with us to try to find a physical space.
Next is hopefully another design job. We’re going to continue to restore and repurpose these pieces and let our passion for the arts keep blossoming. We’ll keep adding to our Etsy store, too, as well as our website. We’re constantly making new items, and we visit garage sales and auction sales weekly to find pieces that interest us.
What inspires you?
Seeing old weathered boards or seeing things when I drive down the road—something that someone has thrown out. For example, I drive through the country on my way to work. The other day, I saw a house with a big lot and an old spool top (the kind that holds phone lines). A couple days later, I stopped by the house and asked the owners what they were going to do with it. They said, “You can have it,” and three days later, it was a coffee table. Seeing things people have discarded inspires me to put new life back into them.
Interview by Robin Donovan